BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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What’s in a Name?

One name is pretty standard baggage, if not the bare minimum for informal identification. Whether you’re a fan of your moniker or not, it sure beats yelling out “Hey, you! You with the face!” to command attention from friends and family. We all have at least one good name, and often two, perhaps three, and even a nickname for closer confidants. However, the web of casual connections grows increasingly tangled from there, when a seemingly endless stream of unrelated aliases all point in the same direction. What kind of secrets are hidden behind each different title? Where did all those names come from, and why did they keep relabeling the exact same item?

Sea foam, fairy food, hokey pokey, honeycomb, sponge candy- There could very well be more pseudonyms that I’ve missed, well concealed by this cunning candy. This vintage sweet had taken on a new assumed name with each community of unsuspecting bakers. None were troubled enough to ask many questions, so utterly enchanted by its signature matrix of sugary bubbles, forever frozen at the hard-crack stage, that all other concerns were quickly abandoned.

Though I set out on a mission to uncover the truth, that cause fell by the wayside as I cooked and caramelized, stirred and stewed, bubbled, boiled, and crystallized my very own sweet mystery. If anything, the kitchen enigma I created was even darker, more powerful than the old fashioned candies of yore. Crisp foamy craters redolent of chocolate define this newest incarnation, possessing almost as many forms of cacao as its storied names. There’s cocoa and dark chocolate of course, and cacao nibs for extra crunch, but the real secret ingredient here is chocolate extract. Nothing else is able to convey such a depth of flavor in this fragile ratio of sugars and liquids without collapsing the delicate framework of airy perforations.

I’m no closer to uncovering the true indentity of this culinary chameleon… But I do understand why so many before me have fallen for such a sweet devil without question. Now that I’ve given it yet another name to contend with, the waters of history grow murkier, tinted with the all-consuming powers of chocolate, but that’s far from a bad thing. What’s in a name, anyway?

This post was made possible thanks to Rodelle and their superlative cacao contributions.

Quadruple Chocolate Honeycomb

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
5 Tablespoons Water, Divided
1 Teaspoon White Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Chocolate Extract
2 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
2 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Cacao Nibs

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper and lightly grease. It doesn’t need to fit perfectly inside the pan, as long as it will cover the bottom and sides without any holes for the liquid candy to escape through.

Combine the sugar, agave, 4 tablespoons of the water, and vinegar in a medium saucepan. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar and place over medium heat. Swirl the pan gently to mix the ingredients as the sugar slowly melts, but avoid stirring from this point forward to prevent premature crystallization.

Meanwhile, mix together the remaining tablespoon of water, cocoa powder, and chocolate extract in a small dish; set aside.

Cook until the mixture caramelized and reaches 300 – 310 degrees, also known as the hard crack stage in candy-making terminology, and remove the pan from the heat. Things will move very quickly from here, so be on your toes. Vigorously stir in the cocoa paste along with the baking soda, allowing the mixture to froth and foam violently. Immediately transfer the liquid candy mixture to your prepared baking dish but do not spread or smooth it down. Allow it to settle naturally to maintain the structure of fine bubbles trapped within.

Let cool for at least 1 hour until fully set. To finish, melt the the dark chocolate in a microwave-safe dish, heating at intervals of 30 seconds and stirring thoroughly in between each one, until completely smooth. Pour over the top and spread it evenly across the surface. Sprinkle with cacao nibs and let rest until solidified. Break the candy into pieces and enjoy.

Sadly, it doesn’t keep well for more than a two or three days at room temperature, even when sealed in an air-tight container, so enjoy without delay!

Printable Recipe

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Neither Flowers Nor Flours

Valentine’s Day kicks into high-gear and still the debate rages on: Boxed chocolates or a bouquet? Countless delinquent romantics face this dilemma right at this very moment, weighting their options at the nearest corner store. It seems like an obvious choice to me, and the numbers agree; polls consistently rank candies and sweets as the top pick, beating out everything from cards to cologne by a landslide. They say it’s the thought that counts, but let’s be honest: For this occasion, any gift less than cacao decadence would be given in bad taste.

While I don’t have a sweetheart to spoil, there’s still plenty of love to go around because the passion for chocolate knows no bounds. Even for those procrastinating Romeos and Juliets out there, this quick-fix flourless cake is simple enough to have ready in about an hour, and is far more impressive than any handful of wilted blossoms or waxy confections. Each dense, dark, and fudgy wedge is incredibly rich so it may very well serve more than just one happy couple… but then again, for my fellow single ladies and lads out there, I certainly wouldn’t judge you for considering it as a single serving, too.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

3 Tablespoons Vegan Butter
5 Ounces Dark or Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 Tablespoon Finely Ground Chia Seeds
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees with a rack in very center. Lightly grease a 6-inch round mini springform pan and set aside.

Place the vegan butter and chocolate in a large, microwave-safe bowl and heat at 30-second intervals, stirring thoroughly each time, until melted and completely smooth.

Meanwhile, begin whipping the aquafaba in your stand mixer at low speed. Once you work up a stable froth, increase the speed to high. Mix together the sugar and cream of tartar in a small bowl and slowly begin adding the mixture as the machine continues to run. Allow 8 – 10 minutes of steady whipping for the meringue to reach full volume.

Stir the remaining ingredients into the bowl of melted chocolate, taking care to beat out any clumps. Whisk about 1/4 of the stiff meringue into the chocolate to help lighten the mixture, and then switch over to a wide spatula. Gently fold in the remaining meringue until, keeping as much air in the mixture as possible, until fully incorporated. A few residual pale streaks are just fine.

Transfer the batter into your prepared pan and smooth down the top with a spatula. Bake until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and is set on top; about 40 – 45 minutes. Don’t worry if it seems to collapse in the center! It will just give you more space to fill with fresh berries or whipped coconut cream.

Serves 2 – 4

Printable Recipe


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All It’s Choc-ed Up To Be

Walk two steps into your average supermarket, corner store, or pharmacy, and you’re liable to trip over a stand of assorted chocolate temptations. The field has grown at an exponential rate ever since the first bite of tempered cacao passed through discerning lips, and that explosive growth shows no sign of slowing down. It’s impossible to keep up with all the new varieties proliferating from old favorites, let alone stay in the loop about fledgling brands. Any reasonable person can at least appreciate a good square of chocolate, so it doesn’t take much to explain the steady upward trend.

Valentine’s Day is a particularly good excuse to single out some exceptional chocolate options, should you need a reason to indulge in the first place. Gourmet truffles represent the height of the art form, but for the more casual chocoholic, a whole world of superlative bars now exist within easy reach, right on shelves alongside more accessible sweets.

Better known for their whole grains, Alter Eco has colored countless meals with their rainbow of quinoa options, but also pours that same passion for quality into their chocolate molds. Carefully, consciously sourced in order to support the farmers and workers contributing to every step of the process, it’s a brand I feel especially proud to call local to the San Francisco bay area. They truly put their money where their mouth is… In between bites of luscious cacao, of course.

Not all their confections are vegan, but the dairy-free options are so dark, rich, and deeply satisfying that it’s hard to understand why they would need such a crutch at all. Look no further than the Quinoa, Mint, and Orange varieties to see for yourself.

Move over Crunch and Crackle! The most unique option of the three, popped quinoa offers all the crispy texture you love, with the sophisticated, slightly bitter chocolate you crave. Just sweet enough to take the edge off, it’s the darkest of these three, which makes even a tiny shard quite satisfying. The quinoa adds very little flavor, but big visual and textural impact. You get all the whimsy of a childhood classic but with serious chocolate taste.

Mint chocolate is perhaps one of the most perfect flavor marriages in my mind, and this rendition does not disappoint. Luscious herbal aroma perfumes the air as soon as the seal is broken, revealing a flawlessly molded bar. Tempered to a crisp snap, it has a smooth, creamy melt with a refreshing, bright, but not overpowering undercurrent of mint. Well-balanced sweetness highlights the fresh flavor while rounding out the chocolate profile.

Substantial, chunky pieces of candied zest immediately gleam across the surface of the orange twist bar. Subtly smoky, woodsy chocolate lends a more earthy essence to contrast with the bold taste of citrus. The orange itself is relatively subdued, but still clean and fresh. Those whole pieces are the best element, adding a bit of chew and excitement into the experience.

Even bad chocolate is generally pretty good, but with so many exceptional options to choose from now, why settle for second rate? It doesn’t need to be a special occasion to indulge in any of these delights.


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Bursting with Flavor

It was a warm summer day, just like any other, when I boarded a plane in Austin with a bomb in my luggage.

No, scratch that: Dozens, if not hundreds, of tiny little bombs, all packed neatly in my carry-on bag. Rest assured that security was no slouch, pulling me aside to examine the explosive contents, but still I slid through without much incident. Before I incite mass panic here, let me clarify that these bombs were only of the edible variety, bursting with energy and flavor, rather than actual firepower.

Returning home from a food-focused convention, I still felt like I was getting away with robbery, if not a greater crime of terrorism. Enjoy Life Foods had been one of the very few vegan sponsors and at the end of the event, unloaded nearly their entire supply of uneaten samples into my hungry hands. Yes, untold numbers of the brand new ProBurst Energy Bites were now mine to savor, if only I could transport them back across state lines. Though the physical weight was considerable, there’s nothing I won’t do for good food… Even if the x-ray results looked mighty questionable, and TSA cross-examination is never a fun addition to the travel agenda.

Think of the classic Larabar composition of a blended nut-and-seed bar but considerably less chewy, chop it up into bite-sized pieces, and drench the whole thing in chocolate, and you might get a vague idea of the goodness that goes into each little nugget. Each of the four flavors straddles the thin line that separates dessert from snack, pulling in impressive nutritional numbers while handily satisfying the most demanding sweet tooth.

Adventurous flavor combinations further distinguish these treats from the wide variety of energy bars already flooding the marketplace. Mango Habanero and Cranberry Orange are slightly less conventional pairings, yet there’s not a loser between them. SunSeed Butter offers nut-free peanut butter doppelganger, and my personal favorite, Cinnamon Spice, adds a balanced warmth to the dark chocolate foundation.

Although it seemed like an absurd haul at the time, guaranteed to last a lifetime for any reasonable snacker, it was a sad day when my supply finally ran dry. Thank goodness these bites are finally available for retail purchase– Especially if it means I won’t need to secretly smuggle them back home in bulk anymore.


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Nothing Bundt Chocolate

Despite the recent influx of chocolate-covered features here on BitterSweet, I swear the trend is entirely unintentional. Given the festive season that’s upon us, I’d much rather share treats infused with bright spices, sweet winter fruits, and hearty whole grains. The catch here is that I’m typically not baking for myself, but for others, and there are quite a few picky eaters on my list. While you can never please everyone, you can bet I’m still going to try.

Thus, most nuts and dried fruits are out. Anise and clove are incredibly polarizing flavors. Nothing with booze for the staunch non-drinkers. Vegetable-haters object loudly to pumpkin in any format, which means that butternut and sweet potatoes are also out. What, then, is left in the average baker’s arsenal?

Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate, aside from liars and the mentally unstable. This one is nothing new, and in fact, is quite a throw back. Pilfered from my mother’s recipe box on a recent visit, this classic chocolate cake is brought to you by my Great Nana Blanche. I never met the woman, but clearly, she knew how to cook for a crowd. Easily modified to yield layers, cupcakes, or a bundt, the basic formula never disappoints.

If you’re also going crazy trying to make something special for a number of picky eaters, take a hint from the classics. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a tried-and-true, old-fashioned chocolate cake. There’s a reason why those recipes have survived through so many years.

Great Nana Blanche’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (Veganized)

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Hot Water

Simple Chocolate Glaze (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease your baking vessel of choice.*

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the vegan butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in the sour cream, yogurt, and vanilla, mixing until homogeneous. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to ensure that all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the hot water. Mix just until smooth.

*You have many options for the final shape of this cake, and all are equally delicious! Simply adjust the baking time accordingly:

9×5 loaf pan = 45 – 50 minutes
12 – 14 cupcakes = 16 – 18 minutes
8 layer cake round = 30 – 35 minutes
10-cup bundt pan = doubled recipe, baked for 60 – 70 minutes
6 – 8 mini bundts = 20 – 25 minutes

Let cool completely before glazing, if desired.

Printable Recipe


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Cacao Concerto

To talk of decadent white chocolate treats but withhold all the corresponding recipes would be terribly cruel.

Inspired by the myriad shades of chocolate that color the culinary world, I wanted to create a cookie that celebrated as many facets of these revered beans as possible. Not just in chips or chunks, but in powdered format, and even sticky syrup too. The results came out exceptionally tender, chewy beyond my wildest dreams, and utterly, thoroughly, chocolatey. Though I would never tempt fate to suggest that these darker, richer morsels could replace traditional chocolate chip cookies altogether… Let’s just say that the classics have some serious competition to contend with now.

Chocolate Quartet Cookies

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks
1/4 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
2/3 Cup Natural Chocolate Syrup
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with either parchment paper or silpats.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Add in both kinds of chocolate chips and toss to coat.

Separately, combine the chocolate syrup, oil, and vanilla. Stir well, and then add the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Using a wide spatula, mix just enough to bring the batter together smoothly. Portion out cookies with a medium-sized ice cream scoop, and place them with at least 1 1/2 inches between each cookie on your prepared baking sheet. They spread out to become sizable cookies, so I usually bake about 8 or 9 per sheet.

Flatten them out slightly with lightly moistened hands, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until barely browned around the edges and no longer shiny on top. They may looks a bit underdone, but they will continue to bake once removed from the oven, and you want to keep them nice and chewy. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Makes 16 – 20 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Dreaming of a White Chocolate Christmas

Gleaming in the early morning light, bright and luminous as freshly fallen snow, white chocolate is an irreplaceable staple for the holiday baker. Generous pans of fudge, slabs of peppermint bark, and boxes of cookies all shimmer with these sweet morsels, unrivaled in their versatility for ornamentation and flavor enhancement. The trouble, as every careful shopper knows, is that mainstream options contain far more dairy than cacao. White chocolate gets a bad rap for precisely this reason, to say nothing of the waxy hydrogenated oils that often bind the whole sugary messes together. While relatively limited vegan options exist on the market, the tides are slowly changing.

Homemade options are always a treat, and you’ll find boutique bars aplenty online, but what I’m talking about today are genuine chips, capable of holding their own in any dessert rather than functioning simply as a treat to eat out of hand. Right now, there are two types of vegan chocolate chips: Those that are good for melting, dipping, and drizzling, and those that maintain their shape, more resistant to the heat of the oven.

The newest chip off the block is somewhat revolutionary; 100% organic, no hydrogenated oils or questionable fillers in sight. Cocoa butter, rice milk powder, sugar, and vanilla are the only things that go into Pascha Chocolate‘s new rice milk white chocolate chips. For the obsessive label-readers or highly allergic eaters, this stuff is heaven-sent. Flatter than the traditional snowy peaks of conventional chocolate chips, they’re more like crisp white disks, ideal for melting down into creamy cacao creations.

Mildly flavored, they don’t beat you over the head with sweetness, but whisper gently of vanilla with a subtle buttery undertone. This nuanced approach is perfect for crowning more aggressively flavored baked goods, like these gingerbread bars pictured above, cutting their intensity without detracting from the overall experience. Although their more delicate composition means they’re more likely to pool and puddle when faced with a trip through the oven, they’re perfect for turning into white ganache or icing once your treats are fully baked. For your highest quality option with the cleanest label, Pascha Chocolate is your one and only choice.

If you’re craving a smattering of white chocolate freckles throughout your cookies or cakes, however, you still have one great option! While there are a few white chips out there designed for the kosher crowd, most of those taste of little more than wax and sugar, entirely eschewing cocoa butter and thus losing the essence of this simple sweet addition. Not so with the White Chocolate Chips offered by Chocolate Emporium. These are the little morsels of pale cacao goodness that I’ve been buying (and hoarding) in bulk for years.

Although they’re stubbornly resistant to melting down smoothly, that quality serves them perfectly for baked applications. They have a slightly softer chew right out of hand, but somehow manage to hold their own in the face of a 350 degree inferno. Their flavor would be described as subtle at best, but their main function should be to add sweetness, creaminess, and color contrast anyway.

When the chips are down, these two are your very best bets, and both should have a place of honor in your kitchen year round. Vegan white chocolate is still something of a rarity, so these sweet treats will undoubtedly elicit astonishment, wonder, and awe- Not to mention hunger.